ACBL
District 6
Shawn Stringer, President
American Contract Bridge League
Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference
District 7
Zero Tolerance, D6 policy
Feb/MarArticle by Steve RobinsonJun/Jul
ArticlesBergen Raises (Apr/May 2008)
I asked my expert panel to discuss Bergen raises. Bergen Raises: One-of-a-major – three-of-the-same-major is a preemptive raise. Partner opens 1 and you bid 3 holding QxxxQxxxxxxxx. Four trumps and fewer then seven support points. One-of-a-major - 3 is a mixed raise. You bid 3 over 1 holding KxxxAxxxxxxxx (7-9 support points with four trumps). One-of-a-major – 3 is a four-card limit raise. (I’ve seen 3 and 3 reversed). What do you think of Bergen raises and would you recommend that convention for the average player? What about after an opening bid and interference?

I got various replies ranging from I love them, they’re OK and I hate them. I am totally surprised that the following expert likes them.


Marty Bergen: Excellent convention for experienced players. For average player fine if THEY can remember easily. I suggest: On over double, off over overcall.

As in any convention, you have to know what the bids mean, and what if any changes occur by passed hand and in competition. Bergen Raises has lots of variations and they all must be discussed.

Larry Cohen: I believe in the Law Of Total Tricks principles behind Bergen Raises, but I can't say this is a "must-play" convention. The convention is fine IF (and only if) the partnership has carefully discussed if it is ON in Competition and/or by a Passed Hand. Also, you have to discuss which version you are playing. So, for a casual pairing at the club to fill out a card and say, "Bergen Raises?" - "Sure." - is asking for trouble. There are ways to use Bergen raises in comp, but this must be carefully worked out and memorized. Conclusion: Bergen raises (in some form) are fine for regular and well-rehearsed partnerships.

David Berkowitz: Larry Cohen (a disciple) and I have given up the mixed raise in favor of a direct 3 being invitational and natural. We find that with four trumps and 7-9 points we bid two, then three. Opponents don't balance over a single raise when they know dummy has only three, we like to keep them guessing. In interference, we prefer to use fit-showing-jumps, with direct raise being weak. There is much to be said for playing 2NT in interference as a raise of some sort, and the cue-bid as a different raise (three trumps vs four).

Competing to the three-level is not the problem when you have a four-card raise. It’s watching partner take ten tricks when you are at the two-level.

Bart Bramley: I've never played Bergen raises and don't recommend them for any player. They use up a whole level of bids to micro-specify one hand type. Those bids are better used for something else. Natural and invitational is my favorite. It plugs a nasty gap in two-over-one systems. The traditional set of raises is adequate for hands with four-card support. For hands below a limit raise I am content to raise to two, and later compete to three if advisable. Occasionally I will promote the hand to an immediate limit raise instead. The opponents don't always get in there, and they're not always right if they do. Interference doesn't change my opinion.

Mike Passell: I like Bergen raises for a number of reasons. When partner raises directly to two-of-the-major he rarely has more than three trumps so you can avoid a lot of close game tries and stay lower on those hands. Playing 3 as the limit is better because you have room to make game tries - especially after 1-openers. In competition I like to play that three-of-the-major is mixed, the cue bid is exactly a limit raise and 2NT is Jacoby - the same as one-of-a-major – 2NT.

When playing Bergen Raises, a two-of-a-major raise usually shows three-card support, which allows you to be conservative holding a weak five-card suit. One would probably not use Bergen if 4-3-3-3 or if void of aces and kings. QJxxQxxxQxxxx is an optional mixed raise.

Eric Greco: I like Bergen raises and have had success with them. I think they help the good players and the average one's get to games they may not otherwise bid. Most players do not make a game try with a 5-4-3-1 fourteen-count, and that usually makes game opposite a mixed raise. Bergen Raises take up a lot of room and can be destructive. Also, the inference that when partner raises to two-of-the-major they almost always have only three trumps (unless the vulnerability warrants only bidding two or being 4-3-3-3). The only disadvantage is that sometimes you would have bought it in two when you push yourself to three but that does not measure up to the advantages. I love them in competition as well. In competition, you need the preemptive raise and can use one-under as a mixed raise and use a cue-bid as a limit-raise. I might not recommend them for the average player in competition unless they have talked with a partner and clearly define what the bids mean to avoid misunderstandings. I like Bergen Raises even more when playing a light and limited opening system as Precision because you can really put a lot of pressure on the opponents without worrying about having a slam. Another word, at favorable your mixed raise can be on the light side. The best thing of all is that they come up a lot! So it is useful convention that actually comes up frequently!

Eddie Wold: I think a mixed raise is very important as a response to an opening one-of-a-major. I think the best setup is to use three-of-the-major as the mixed raise and one-under as the limit-raise. The preemptive raise can be as just as useful to the opponents as bothersome many times. In competition, still use three-of-the-major as the mixed raise and use a cuebid as limit or better. I think this is highly recommended to an intermediate player and I teach it to all of my students.

Jon Wittes: With my regular partner, Ross Grabel, I play Bergen raises, but we have our major suit raises modified to cover all possible holdings. We play one-of-a-major - 3 showing either 5-8 with four trumps or 12-13 balanced with four trumps. 3 is a game try opposite the small hand. 3NT is a slam try opposite the big hand. 3 is an artificial inquiry about shortness with slam aspirations opposite the small hand. One-of-a-major - 3 shows either 9-11 with four trumps or 14-15 balanced with four trumps. 3 is a game try opposite the small hand, or the start of a shortness asking bid. With the big hand, partner bids 3NT. With the small hand, partner can either reject the game try with 3, bid 4, or show shortness. We play one-of-major - 2NT shows either 11-15 unbalanced with four trumps or 16+ balanced with four trumps. Over anything but four-of-the-major (showing a minimum with fewer than four controls), responder bids three-of-the-major or 3NT with the 16+ or shortness with the 11-15 unbalanced. We also play one-of-a-major – three-of-the-other-major as showing a dead-minimum-game-going splinter with no slam aspirations unless partner has a super hand. To complete our major suit raises, we raise to two-of-our major as a semi-constructive raise with three trumps, a jump to three-of-our-major as a preemptive raise with four trumps, one-of-our-major -1NT – two-any – two-of-our-major as either a simple preference or a weak three-card raise, and one-of-our-major - 1NT – two-any – three-of-our-major as a limit raise with three trumps. I have no strong feelings one way or the other whether the average player should play Bergen raises, though I would be opposed to beginning players trying it.  We do not play Bergen over interference. 

Billy Pollack: I play Bergen Raises, and think they are simple to learn and use, so, yes, I recommend them, even to "average" players. That fourth trump is valuable, especially in competitive auctions. The other benefit is that one-of-a-major – two-of-a-major is mostly a three-trump raise, which is helpful. And so many auctions go one-of-a-major – three-of-a-minor – three-of-our-major or four-of-our-major with no information passed to the bad guys. After interference, I like fit jumps by passed hand and preemptive jumps by unpassed hand.  The other wrinkle, which is "mandatory" for any expert partnership, is over one-of-a-major - double. Here I use transfers, with the suit just below our major as a constructive raise to two-of-our-major; Bergen still on by passed hand; 2NT = "best possible" by passed hand with fit jumps. It works well. I also play this over our one-of-major overcalls, and Berkowitz-Cohen take it much further using transfers even after three-of-a-major - double! 

Pollack mentions transfers after a takeout double. If you don’t want to have the complexity of transfers, you can compromise by playing a 2 response after a takeout double shows three trumps with 7-9 points and 2 shows four trumps with 7-9 points. This way 1 - double - 2 shows 3-6 points. I’m not convinced about giving up the natural 1NT response which you need to do when you’re playing transfers after a takeout double

Some experts believe that the mixed raise is more important then the preemptive raise. The suggest using 1 - pass - 3 as the mixed raise.


Mark Lair: I play 1 - Pass-3 as mixed 1- 2 (opponents) -3 as mixed.

Zeke Jabbour: I will be interested to see if there's anything resembling a consensus on this question. Bergen is clearly playable, as are most treatments that have stood the test of time. I play them with a lot of my partners and I am comfortable enough with them.  Bergen caters to the Law of Total Tricks, which is deemed a relatively accurate predictor when competing at the lower levels. Certain systemic auctions, such as 1 - 3 can also be effectively preemptive. On the other hand, the 3 and 3 calls sometime leave room for competitive action by the opponents when they might not have been able to act over a one-three major limit-raise. On occasion, playing Bergen requires some contorted forcing notrump auctions. For example, with intermediate hands which lack a fit with partner.  Say one holds xA10xxxAJ10xxxx, and partner opens 1. Playing Bergen and two-over-one, one must bid 1NT forcing and then 3- not clearly invitational. What if you held Q10xxxx of clubs instead?  Bergen disallows weak-jump-shifts, as well. How much simpler, more descriptive, and probably more effective it would be to be able to bid 1 - 3, invitational, directly. It is the old-fashioned 1 - 2 - 2any - 3 showing 9-11 HCP, a six-card suit and no fit with partner's opening suit. I can concoct a myriad of hands that are more effectively handled with a direct invitational call. If you’re playing invitational three-level bids, you can handle the Q10xxxxx hand by a forcing notrump followed by 3, and partner would know it was weak because you failed to make the invitational call. Bergen raises frequently work at cross-purposes with unaltered two-over-one. For that reason some Bergen players insist on two-over-one not being game forcing if you repeat your suit. That, in turn, creates a new set of problems whenever, with a good hand, it is desirable to emphasize the length and quality of the suit without fear of being dropped. Having said all that, I would teach Bergen raises, though not exclusively. First, because they are so widely used that they have become mandatory inclusions to one's repertoire if you want a variety of partners, and, second, because it helps to understand what opponents are doing if you know how to play what they're playing. I would teach them other methods in competition.

Drew Cason: I think this structure is best:   Without Competition: 1 - 3 weak
1-3 or 1- 3 mixed
1- 3 limit (and balanced)
1 - 2 forcing heart raise
1 - 2NT natural + forcing (could have three hearts)
1 - 3 mini splinter (unspecified shortness)
1 - 3NT big spade splinter

Roger Bates: I would suggest them with 3 and 3 switched. I would also suggest hiving both a mixed and weak raise to three-of-our-major and almost always when there is competition.

Kerry Sanborn: As with any convention, one has to weigh the benefit against the loss. With the understanding of total tricks, it is a valuable tool to be able to identify a four-card raise. Bergen surely fills the gap in this respect. There is virtually no hand with a four-card raise, which does not bid at the three-level, thus clueing the partnership and preempting the opponents. For players without the comprehension of total tricks, Bergen raises might still work, but won't afford the same worth as to those who are devotees.

I think that many players would do as well by playing weak, strong or invitational jump shifts. That would depend on their technical ability as well as with their knowledge of total tricks. If I were in a competitive auction, I would play Bergen in a couple of situations. I would recommend that it be only a jump, thus limiting it to a spade overcall of one heart. It gets too confusing to guess which other jumps are Bergen.

You can also play Bergen after you overcall. After they open one-of-a-suit and you overcall, the common variation of Bergen is to play that a jump to three-of-partner’s suit is a preemptive raise and a jump to three-of-opener’s suit is a mixed raise. After 1 - 1 - Any, a jump to 3 is a preemptive raise and a jump to 3 is a mixed raise.

Charlie Weed: I like Bergen raises even though Cayne system does not use them. I would recommend them to average players but off in competition.

George Jacobs:
I use them but feel they are not for a newer player. In competition, teach them to bid the limit of their hand right away.

Steve Bloom: I am somewhat neutral. Giving up two natural bids to cover various raises seems like too steep a price, and the convention doesn't seem to yield enough positive rewards to justify that cost. In particular, the four-card mixed raise can be handled quite adequately by raising to the two-level, and competing, if necessary. My personal preference is the following: One-of-a-major - 3 = limit raise or game-forcing raise planning to suggest 3NT as a possible strain. This still allows one-of-a-major- three-of-a-major to be preemptive, and frees up 3 and 3NT for other meanings. In competition, there is even less to gain by playing multiple raises, when we have picked up a cue-bid to show a limit raise. I cannot see any merit in playing 1 - 1 overcall - 3 as some sort of heart raise. One final point for average players to consider: What does it mean when your partner doubles a Bergen raise? Is that lead-directing or is it takeout of their major? I recommend a double to be takeout whenever their sequence shows less than a limit raise.

I agree that a double of an artificial bid which shows at least limit raise strength should be lead-director. Double of an artificial bid that shows less than limit raise strength should be takeout of the major. Double of a mixed raise is takeout of the major. Double of a limit raise is lead director.

Sue Picus: I like Bergen raises, but NOT after interference.

Mel Colchamiro: I believe that Bergen Raises have limited value in Spades, and much more value for hearts. I don't know about you, but when it goes 1 - pass - 2 - pass – pass – back to me, I don't always make the winning decision. Do you? Getting to the three-level particularly at matchpoints doesn't make me happy. You win some, sure, but even that is less beneficial at matchpoints when they miss game. At IMPs, Bergen Raises are more important. I like mixed raises after an overcall a lot, though, and beginning to believe they may be best opposite an opener, too. I teach a lot and I don't recommend Bergen Raises to my students - it's just one more thing they'll have to use good judgment to master and gain benefits from. I teach students to play preemptive jump raises and mixed raises after overcalls. So, to summarize, I put Bergen Raises at the bottom of my teaching list. There is nothing wrong with them for the right player, but very wrong for the wrong player.

Over a 1 opener, the preemptive raise is not as valuable as after a 1 opener. The mixed raise, however, is just as valuable over either opener.

Jill Meyers: I personally don't have an interest in playing Bergen raises and I have no experience with their effectiveness; playing against them I have not felt preempted if that is supposed to be the benefit of them. Constructively I think they preempt your partner and take away room for help suit game tries so partner has to guess. But this is a matter of personal preference so I don't feel this is a good question to ask me.

The following experts dislike Bergen Raises. The main reason is that since three-of-a-minor is artificial, you lose the possible natural meanings of the bids. Another disadvantage is that you are pushing yourself to the three-level when you might have bought it one-level lower.

Chip Martel: I think they are OK, but I prefer to use one-of-a-major – three-of-a-minor as natural and invitational so one has more ways to deal with hands where we haven't yet found a fit. In competition now three-of-a-major weak and some artificial bid to show a mixed raise is more useful.

Ralph Katz: Not excited about the average player playing Bergen. First average players usually play against average players, so what percentage of times will you now play three down one or down two instead of making two, when the field isn't balancing? Secondly, you then need to change your two-over-one structure and you probably will be giving up something useful. What about after an opening bid and interference? I like this much better since your opponents have already entered the auction.

Henry Bethe: I think Bergen Raises do not make a lot of sense. Partly this is because of a lack of definition: What is a preemptive raise? I have seen preemptive raises made on as little as J10xxxxxxxxxxx and as much as Q10xxKxxxxxxxx. Confusion for the enemy, but also for partner who has no idea when or whether to continue. I also do not like the idea of using up five different relatively low level bids: two-of-a-major, 2NT, 3 3 and three-of-a-major for raises. There are too many hands to communicate to be able, in my opinion, to afford this. I chose to use the three-level jumps to show the hand that would like to bid and rebid a suit invitational, and thus reserve the two-over-one response for real game forces. But that is personal preference, not necessarily a recommendation. Bergen Raises are intriguing at first glance. I tried them. But I found I was losing too much in other auctions for the gain in auctions in which they were used. After an opening bid and interference I think a) over double, transfers make the most sense to me, with the direct raise destructive and the bid of one-below the suit constructive but relatively balanced and the jump-raise constructive but with distribution. The second hand above would be my model for 1- double-3 b) over an overcall I am simple minded: jump raise the same, cue bid = limit or better.

Bobby Wolff: I would not recommend Bergen Raises for any level players. Deciding whether to bid on is a guess at best, with luck, of course. The disadvantage of Bergen is that it gives lead directing opportunities, both positive and negative to the opponents and also sometimes allows the defense an extra round of bidding to calibrate their assets for bidding themselves. To me it is an established fact that the more partnerships tell each other about their hands, the better good opponents judge what to do. I don't like support doubles, Jack denies on lead, Key-card Blackwood although obviously Key-card Blackwood has some advantages. It is very enabling for the opponent’s judgment on possible sacrifices and more important to be able to lead from the jack of trumps against a slam knowing partner does not hold the queen. Summing up, most players like the above conventions, including Bergen, because it gives them comfort to think they know more about how to base their decisions. Don't ever forget, good opponents are also listening and those same conventions arm the "bad guys' more than they help the "good ones". Bergen raises are not as bad, only because the stakes are less and there is still judgment involved. To me, even the best players ever in history are subject to many lucky situations which are better left that way rather than try and be exact and have the opponents almost always do the right thing. As you can see your question struck a nerve with me, causing my strong opinion. Over interference, Bergen is even more telling to the opponents in order to estimate distribution more accurately.

Marinesa Letezia: I prefer invitational jump-shifts as I think they are much more useful for the average player even more so than the expert. Definitely think there are better treatments in competition than Bergen Raises.

Ron Gerard: Bergen raises are the product of a total tricks warped mind. There are too many other valuable meanings for three-of-a-minor. I would not recommend them under any circumstances.

Take that Larry Cohen!

Mike Lawrence: I consider Bergen raises to be a waste of time. They take up way too many bids that have other useful meanings. Also, they give the opponents extra chances to enter the bidding on hands they might not be able to. They can make lead directing doubles of the 3/3 bids or they can choose to make takeout doubles if they prefer that. In fact, they might be able to make some kind of Michaels bid over the 1 - 3 sequence, if it shows a limit raise, that would not be available after 1 - 3 Even though standard bidding has its awkward moments, it often causes some bad leads from the defenders. Game bidding does not need as much science as slam bidding. I did not put Bergen Raises in my Convention software for all of these reasons. In fact, I think that there are way too many writers making up rules and touting them as a way to honk their horns. I guess that at least half of these ‘rules’ are worthless.

Jeff Rubins: Not my style, and unless I have a huge fit (with which one would not Bergen-raise anyway) I don't worry much about the opponents' being able to make a contract of 3 or higher when my partner opens and I have some values - doesn't happen often enough to sacrifice things against the possibility. For the average player not that or anything else anywhere near as complicated; it would need to be near-essential (some sort of Stayman, perhaps) for me to think it useful for an average player. After an opening bid and interference, on a technical basis, it is very close whether to play one of a suit - simple overcall - three-of-opener's-suit as preemptive. I have been doing that since 1960 without forming any firm conclusion. However, if one does that, I think that simple cue-bid as game-invitational (or very strong) raise with jump cue [or maybe some other jumps, depending on the specific suits] game-raise is significantly better than simple cue ambiguous raise and jump cue splinter. The problem, both in theory and in practice, with the more-ambiguous cue-bid is its very wide range.

Kit Woolsey: I think Bergen Raises is an awful convention. It is very bad to have an unnecessary artificial call by the player who will be dummy, as this gives fourth seat a chance to double (or not double) for a lead. The potential loss from this more than makes up for any extra accuracy gained from the Bergen raises. If the choice were to play Bergen raises or entirely eliminate limit raise I think a pair would do better on balance entirely eliminating limit raises and either raising to two or driving to game. There is little value with the mixed raise. It gets you a level higher unnecessarily, since the opponents don't always balance when you have nine trumps - they don't know that. If the hand is a true preemptive raise, make one. Otherwise, with four trumps you can always raise to the two-level and compete to the three-level if the opponents are in there. A good Jacoby structure will allow you to incorporate limit raise into the Jacoby structure. If you don't have that, it is better to play normal limit raises and give up the preemptive raise. The preemptive raise doesn't gain much anyway. In addition, three-of-a-minor calls can be put to better use. Strong jump shift, natural invite, or weak jump shifts are all reasonable, and any of these uses can be valuable if dealt the right hand.

If you’re not playing mixed raises, you will miss a lot of games when you have KxxxAxxxxxJ10x and raise 1 to 2.

Grant Baze: I do not like Bergen raises and would not recommend them to anyone.

Within the context of two-over-one, I think a two-over-one followed by a rebid of the two-over-one suit must be forcing, otherwise auctions become difficult at best and impossible at worst. Partner opens 1 and you hold: xAxxxxAKQxxxx. You bid 2 and partner bids 2. It is insane to me to bid 3 instead of a forcing 3. What to do then with a hand such as xxxxxxAKQxxxx? If you bid a forcing 1NT and then rebid 3, how does partner know you don't have a hand such as xxxQxxQJ10xxxx? The answer is to bid 3 over 1 with an invitational hand, such as xxxxxxAKQxxxx, or 3 with the same hand with diamonds, or 3 with the same hand with hearts. I think invitational three level jump shifts are much more important than using Bergen raises. Not only do you get to describe your invitational one-suited hands, it enables you to rebid your suit after a two-over-one as forcing.

Allan Falk: I think Bergen raises are silly, a terrible waste of valuable bids that can be put to much better uses. For non-experts, they are just an opportunity to think they are adopting a great convention and complicating their lives instead of learning to bid properly. They are no better in competition than out.

Eddie Kantar: I can live beautifully without them. For the average player, I can see using them. Certainly, not after interference, though, even for the average player.

Adam Wildavsky: I play them seldom so I would not recommend them to the average player. I never play them after an overcall. Some system of artificial raises over a double seems reasonable. After overcalls I prefer to play that a jump to three-of-a-major is mixed, rather than preemptive.

Barry Rigal: No I would not recommend Bergen for anyone but very good players. I would never recommend Bergen in this form in competition or by a passed hand. (There are playable variations in competition).

Dan Morse: I would not recommend Bergen for the average player, even though I do play this with some partners. I would not use it in competiton.

I think it’ s very important to have a mixed raise. There are a lot of hands where responder has eight HCP and four trumps that make game opposite non-game try hands.

For example JxxxxxKxxxxAx opposite KQ10xxKxxxKQxx. Would South make a game try if North raises 1 to 2? However, opposite a mixed raise, South has an easy 4-bid and game is very good. I recently started playing 33% Bergen after an opening bid. I play 3 as a mixed raise after a major-suit opener. The other responses are not Bergen. 3 is natural and invitational and three-of-our-major is a limit raise. I had to give up the invitational-3-bid over 1. Over 1, however, I use a jump to 2 as either a strong-jump-shift in spades or an invitational club bid.
Don Berman, Web Master.